Pre-qualified vs. pre-approved: What’s the difference?

What does it mean when you see “pre-qualified” or “pre-approved” on a credit card offer you get in the mail? It typically means your credit score and other financial information matched at least some initial eligibility criteria needed to become a cardholder. Understanding the distinction between the two terms can get tricky because companies can use them differently—and sometimes interchangeably.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you have questions about pre-qualified and pre-approved credit card offers.

Key takeaways

  • Both pre-qualified and pre-approved credit card offers usually result from a credit card company working with a credit bureau to look at your basic credit information.
  • While many credit card companies use pre-qualified and pre-approved interchangeably, pre-approval might indicate a slightly higher chance of having an application accepted. 
  • Getting pre-qualified or pre-approved for a credit card doesn’t guarantee approval.
  • Pre-qualification and pre-approval for credit cards both typically involve soft inquiries, which don’t affect credit scores. But an official application involves hard inquiries, which do affect scores.

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Before you read on about pre-qualified and pre-approved offers, remember this: “Pre” is the key part of both terms. When a credit card offer mentions that someone is pre-qualified or pre-approved, it typically means they’ve met the initial criteria required to become a cardholder. But they still need to apply and get approved.

Think of these offers as invitations to start the actual application process. Once someone has already been pre-qualified or pre-approved, these offers can give them more confidence when they start the application process.

What does pre-qualified mean for a credit card?

In general, pre-qualification means that a credit card company has done a basic review of your credit and found that you might qualify for a card. If you’re interested in the card, you can give the company personal and financial information—like your Social Security number and monthly income—to help it take a closer look.

Keep in mind that pre-qualification isn’t a guarantee. But it can give you a sense for whether you may be approved if you take the next step and apply for a card. 

What does pre-approved mean for a credit card?

Pre-approval also typically involves a pre-screening that’s done by a credit card company. The company may work with a credit bureau to target people who are likely to qualify for a certain card—and for that reason, the criteria may be more rigorous than it is for pre-qualified offers.

One major difference between pre-approved and pre-qualified offers: Pre-approved offers can be stronger indicators of approval. That means you can generally move forward to the application phase with a high degree of certainty. 

Does pre-qualification or pre-approval affect your credit score?

Simple reviews of your credit—including checks that lead to pre-qualified or pre-approved credit card offers—usually use soft inquiries and don’t affect your credit scores

A second type of credit check, called a hard inquiry, is made only after you respond to a card offer by applying for the card. explains that a hard inquiry typically has only a minor effect on your FICO® score if most other factors—like timely bill payment—are in order.

This full credit check will help in determining whether you could be approved to get the card. If you’re approved, the issuer must offer you the same terms that appeared in the original pre-qualified or pre-approved offer.

If there are changes to your credit information in the time between the pre-screening or pre-selection process and when you apply for a card, your eligibility might change too. For example, this might happen if there were any major changes to your employment, salary or debt.

How do you get a pre-qualified or pre-approved credit card offer?

Some pre-qualified or pre-approved offers might come to you in the mail or by phone or email. If you’re interested in a new card, you can respond to these offers and apply to become a cardholder. 

Keep in mind: You haven’t actually applied for the credit card when you receive one of these offers. But if you’re interested in a new credit card, you can use pre-qualified or pre-approved offers as an opportunity to compare options before applying.

If you're interested in either pre-qualification or pre-approval but haven’t been contacted by a credit card lender, what’s your next step? One option is to look online or go directly to an issuer. For example, Capital One’s pre-approval tool lets you see if you're pre-approved for card offers—with no harm to your credit.

What’s next after getting pre-qualified or pre-approved?

When you apply for a card, that’s when you’ll share more of your financial information, including your income level. That’s also when card issuers will conduct a full credit check.

If you decide you want to apply, that’s a good time to take a close look at things like interest rates and the other card terms to determine which card is right for you. Many cards offer additional benefits like earning cash back or travel rewards, $0 fraud liability for unauthorized purchases, travel insurance, premier access to events and more.

If you’d rather not receive pre-qualified or pre-approved credit card offers, you can opt out of receiving them by calling toll-free 888-5-OPT-OUT—that’s 888-567-8688—or by visiting

Pre-qualification vs. pre-approval in a nutshell

Getting pre-qualified or pre-approved for a credit card can be reassuring—for instance, if you’re thinking about applying for a card and wondering which you may be eligible for. 

One way to get started? See if you’re pre-approved with Capital One. Simply answer some pre-approval questions, check out your eligible offers and decide which card may be right for you. 

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information, or recommendation listed above. The third parties listed are solely responsible for their products and services, and all trademarks listed are the property of their respective owners.

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